In 2015, I noticed two trends:
- The rise of reducetarians – people who are not interested in becoming completely vegetarian or vegan, but are nevertheless actively seeking to reduce their intake of meat and animal products (usually for environmental or health reasons); and
- “Vegan Wannabes” – people who do desire to become vegan, but want to make a gradual transition. The Plant Police preach everyone should be able to go perfectly plant-based overnight, but these vegan wannabes doubt that’s possible – at least for them. They’re not interested in a “21 Day Kickstart” and would like a slower, more gradual approach – maybe vegetarian by June and vegan by January.
So for all the new Reducetarians and Wannabe Vegans out there, here are 16 EASY goals to get you started in 2016!
1. Become aware of what you eat.
A good first step (and a necessary one) is simply becoming aware of what you eat and being mindful of your choices. Many people are surprised to find they are eating animal products at every meal and find it very easy to simply reduce portion sizes or select a non-meat option. For example, order an 8 oz. steak instead of a 12 oz. steak, or a cheeseburger instead of a double cheeseburger. Make an omelet with two eggs instead of three, or have a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. If you’re making a sandwich, use a few ounces less meat and load it up with vegetables. Or instead of a whole turkey sandwich, have half a sandwich and a cup of veggie soup or a side salad. Choose a bean burrito instead of a beef burrito. Ordering pizza? Skip the extra cheese and the stuffed crust, and try veggie pizza. Use vegetable broth in recipes instead of chicken or beef broth. Once you start eating mindfully, you’ll become aware of dozens of ways to reduce your intake of animal products.
2. Keep A Food Journal.
No, I’m not going to make you count boring calories. Just write down what you eat and any pertinent notes – “Skipped the cheese on my sandwich today and didn’t miss it.” “Tried a Thai curry with tofu and to my surprise it was really good!” “The gang ordered chicken wings and they smelled really good, but I limited myself to one instead of my usual four.”
Even if you are eating mindfully, your mind can play tricks on you. Keeping a record keeps it real.
You’ll probably pick up on some patterns – you’re more likely to eat meat (or feel pressured to eat meat) around certain friends or family members; you always want fettucine alfredo or some other cheesy, creamy pasta if you’re feeling down; you usually wind up at Wendy’s when you forget to pack a lunch. Don’t judge yourself but rather, look at this as useful information you can learn from. Could you make a creamy vegan version of your favorite comfort food pasta? Could you find another nearby place to have lunch instead of Wendy’s – or make more thoughtful choices at Wendy’s? (They do offer baked potatoes and salads.) And why is it you are more likely to eat meat around certain people? Is it peer pressure or teasing or harassment? Or maybe it’s nostalgia – your family always had cookouts, BBQs, Sunday dinners – lots of bonding over meat-based meals.
In a few months, you’ll skim through your journal and be amazed at how much your eating habits have changed! A food journal is especially useful for wannabe vegans when you have “slip ups” or “bad days”. So you fell off the wagon and ate chicken – a quick glance through your diary will show that’s the only time you’ve had meat in three weeks! Not only that, but you’ll be reminded that in the last three weeks you also tried vegan pizza at Brixx, a falafel wrap at Kabob Grill, and learned to cook three new vegan recipes! Forgive yourself for your mistake, give yourself a pat on the back for all the successes of the last three weeks, and hop back on that wagon!
Make Easy-Peasy Changes
Next, let’s make a few super-simple changes that will quickly and painlessly remove many animal products from your life.
3. Upgrade Your Oils and Butter
This is an easy one. Hopefully no one reading this is still cooking with lard (rendered pig fat), especially since Crisco’s been around over 100 years. If so, you’ll need to dump that can (probably bequeathed to you by your Great Aunt Matilda) right now. The rest of us just need to start reading labels, as lard is still found in many baking mixes – especially cornbread mixes like Jiffy – and pie crusts.
Swap your butter for Earth Balance – tastes exactly like butter, and comes in several varieties, including a soy-free version, an olive-oil based version, “buttery sticks”, and “whipped” butter.
As for oils, probably you are already cooking with vegetable or olive oil. I use canola oil for some foods because of its high smoke point and EVOO for almost everything else. If you’re hung up on ghee (many Americans are) and think you can’t have Indian food without it, think again. Because ghee is expensive, most Indians and Indian restaurants only use ghee for special occasions or certain foods. The rest of the time, vegetable oil or vegetable ghee is used!
4. Try Milk Alternatives
Once upon a time (and not really that many years ago) the only milk alternatives at my local supermarket were three flavors of Silk Soymilk – Original, Vanilla, or Chocolate.
Today, the “milk aisle” is at least half alternative milks! In addition to numerous brands of soymilk, including unsweetened varieties, there’s also multiple brands and flavors of almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, flax milk … you name it.
Almond, cashew, and coconut milk are now so popular my omnivore friends drink them just for the taste. I’d recommend starting with those. Try several brands and flavors, as taste can vary. I personally prefer unsweetened almond milk to drink and use on cereal; WestSoy Unsweetened Original for cooking; and a tall, frosty glass of chocolate almond milk as a treat because – dang, it’s really good. I mean, chocolate and almonds – what’s not to like?
Tip: Vanilla and chocolate faux milks make excellent additions to fruit smoothies.
Let’s also talk coffee and coffee creamer. Silk , So Delicious, and Califia all offer coffee creamers, so whether you prefer soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk, you have options. And flavors – plain, French Vanilla, Hazelnut (Califia also offers caramel flavor). Califia also offers cold brewed coffee – XXX Expresso, Cafe Latte, Mocha, Salted Caramel, and seasonal blends Pumpkin Spice and Peppermint Mocha. If you prefer to get your coffee out, try a soy latte or a coconut milk frappacino. Dunkin Donuts fan? Some locations offer Almond Breeze Sweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (none in Charlotte, NC, though).
5. Change Up Your Condiments.
Another easy-peasy change is to make the inside of your refrigerator door animal-product-free. (You know, where you stick the jams, jellies, mayonaise, mustard, soy sauce, etc.)
First, replace your mayonnaise with Vegenaise. It has a neutral flavor comparable to Hellman’s and almost the exact same texture, so you can use it spoon for spoon in any recipe calling for mayonnaise. (There are other good mayonnaise substitutes out there, but have a more pronounced lemon/vinegar flavor and/or a thinner, more watery texture, so they don’t substitute as well in pasta or potato salads.)
You’ll be pleased to know ketchup is vegan, most mustards are vegan (except for honey mustard), and so are most hot sauces and BBQ sauces (except, again, for those with honey). Almost all jellies, jams, and fruit spreads are vegan – the majority today use fruit pectin, not gelatin. Salad dressings? Read labels, but typically safe bets include vinaigrettes, Italian dressing (some may contain cheese), and many French dressings. Suprisingly, many Sweet Vidalia Onion dressings are vegan. Thousand Island fan? Full fat versions typically contain egg, but “light” versions are often egg and dairy free. Don’t throw out your steak sauces yet – you may still use them on veggie burgers – but do swap out your Woucestershire sauce for a vegan brand (Annie’s and Earthfare are two good ones.) Spend some time going through the door of your fridge, reading your condiment labels, and replacing condiments as needed.
That was painless, right?
Add Some Structure
6. When you’re ready, go meatless for short periods of time. “Meatless Monday” is a very popular way to do this. Of course, it doesn’t have to be Monday – it could be any day of the week. Or meatless during the week, or meatless on weekends. “Vegan Before 6:00 PM” is another popular option.
You can also rotate meatless meals – meatless breakfasts one week, the next week no meat at lunch, the third week meatless dinners. Rotating can be very educational, because each meal or day of the week can bring a different challenge. For example, I grew up eating light breakfasts of toast and jam, oatmeal, or cereal with fruit – so my only challenge was finding an alternative milk I liked to use on my cereal. So breakfast was easy. Dinner was harder because I had to cook for other people! Similarly, someone may find breakfast to be difficult because they’ve ALWAYS eaten bacon, eggs, and sausage, but find dinner easy because they’re only cooking for one, and a frozen Amy’s entree might be just fine. Weekends might be easy for some because of more time to plan, shop, and cook; for others weekends might be difficult because they are commonly spent dining out or eating at another family member’s house. By rotating days or meals, you develop your ninja plant-eating skills.
Consider This An Adventure!
8. Think of this as an adventure!
Yes, I said adventure! Instead of thinking you are “limiting” yourself by reducing or not eating meat, think of it as starting a whole new culinary adventure! When I was an omnivore, my diet was pretty dull. I ate a lot of grilled chicken and only used a few spices. When I hung out with friends or went on a date, it was usually to some generic restaurant. The kind of place where broccoli and cheese soup was always on the menu (literally and figuratively). Where entrees were salads, sandwiches, “gourmet” hamburgers, and maybe a small steak or token pasta dish. You know the restaurants I mean.
Today, I buy spices in bulk and my spice cabinet is overflowing. There’s always something new going on in my kitchen. I regularly eat at ethnic restaurants (Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Ethiopian, Mexican) and I’m always checking out new restaurants to see what they may have to offer. My old way of eating seems so blah and boring now (not to mention, selfish). So think of this new way of eating as an adventure, a journey of discovery!
9. Find (at least) one new food to try at the supermarket each week.
This could be a new-to-you fruit or vegetable, a canned soup, a frozen dinner, a pasta sauce or new shape of pasta, a pinch of a new spice from the bulk spice bin, something from Gardein, a new blend of fruit juice, something from the ethnic aisle. Don’t expect to like everything – although you will definitely find quite a few new favorites! The point is to experiment and become aware of just how very many options there are!
10. Shop outside your comfort zone.
Always go to the same supermarket because it’s on the way home from work? Visit a competitor just for the heck of it. They may have different items or at least different prices. If you live in a bigger city, definitely make an excursion to Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, and Whole Foods. Visit an Indian grocery or an Asian market. Check out the local farmer’s market. Look up any local health food stores. Charlotte has two great vegan markets – The Greener Apple, specializing in ecologically and animal friendly personal care, cleaning products, foodstuffs, and gifts – and Bean Vegan Market, a vegan supermarket carrying everything from cheese and meat alternatives to frozen vegan pizzas and cheesecake to condiments, canned goods, and snack foods.
11. Visit a different ethnic restaurant each week.
Try chana masala (spiced chickpeas); Thai curries with coconut milk, basil, and lemongrass; pasta puttanesca with olives and capers; falafel and potato harra; veggie fajitas and guacamole; vegan pizza; veggie sushi. Bring a friend so you can share dishes.
12. Make an outing to your city’s vegetarian restaurants.
In Charlotte, we have Bean Vegan Cuisine (comfort food), Fern Flavors from the Garden (classy), Zizi’s Awesome Vegan to Go (deli takeout), and Luna’s Living Kitchen (raw). Again, it’s more fun if you bring a friend so you can sample and share! You’ll want to make more than one outing, as these places have a LOT of options. Plus, Fern’s menu changes seasonally so there is always something new to try! If your city doesn’t have any veg restaurants, make a point of looking for veg restaurants when you travel.
13. Check out vegan meal delivery.
How awesome is it that we can now get meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free meals made with organic and local ingredients actually DELIVERED to our home? At least we can in Charlotte. Nourish is a weekly meal delivery service that offers a weekly menu of chef-prepared entrees, soups, side items, salads, and breakfast items; as well as juices from Viva Raw and dessert options from local vegan bakeries! Nourish also offer weekly plans such as “all lunches” (five lunches) or “the professional plan” (10 meals plus breakfast and snacks – enough to survive the work week). It’s especially great for veg newbies and reducetarians. Nourish delivers to most zip codes in the Charlotte area. Outside the Charlotte area but still in NC? Check out Nourish Delivered – the same great meals but shipped Fed Ex.
Not in NC? See what local options may be available in your city – healthy and veg-friendly meal delivery is a growing trend! On a national level, google Beyonce’s 22 Days Nutrition vegan meal delivery service and Purple Carrot and Mark Bittman’s vegan “meal kit” delivery service.
14. Buy a vegan cookbook (or two, or three) and try a new recipe each week.
Ask your family or friends to join you in the kitchen and enjoy spending time cooking together. Dr. LeAnne Campbell (The China Study Cookbook) has been cooking with her sons since they were children and they still enjoy cooking a meal together as adults.
15. Follow A Blog, Or Three.
I confess, I’m a big fan of blogs. Whenever I have a new interest or hobby, I follow two or three new blogs. They’re a great source of information and inspiration from “real” people. Whatever your niche – going meatless with kids? Vegan chocolate desserts? – chances are, someone’s blogging about it. Plus, seeing new posts from my favorite bloggers helps keep me interested and motivated.
16. Educate Yourself.
You don’t even need to crack open a book. (I told you this was easy!) Here are three films you should plan to watch in 2016 – if you haven’t already.
- Cowspiracy – This documentary is about sustainability – the impact of animal agriculture on greenhouse gases, water, land, oceans, rainforests. Very sobering.
- Get Vegucated – A great documentary that touches on health, environment, and animal welfare.
- Forks Over Knives – How what you eat affects your health.
Reducing the animal products in your diet is such a simple thing that can make a huge positive difference for your health, the environment, and the animals. You should feel great about yourself and excited about your choice!
On behalf of the earth and the animals, I thank you. Please stop by again in 2016.